Mutant Bike Gangs of New York

Tall-bike clubs live free, ride high, and don't want your stinking logo

C.H.U.N.K. hosts jousting too. It's fun, Darko says, but not really the point. "For anybody involved in building bikes, the joust is just a very tiny part," he argues. "It's a loud, entertaining crowd-pleaser." He is not impressed by what he sees as the "aggressive posturing" by Black Label at joint events. "That kind of behavior is for little boys. That's the wrong battle to fight," he says, adding, "The real battle is urban planning to get more people on bikes, to take back the streets, to get more bicycle paths in this city."

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Man with mask, riding bike - Black Label
photo: Ray Lewis/fleabilly@mac.com

Around a table at the Fountainhead offices in Chelsea, Septimus and King address the contradictions of Black Label as an elite club that alternately shuns would-be members and the media alike, then lures the indie crowd through the romantic images in B.I.K.E. Septimus admits to submitting to a long, painstaking vetting process to earn the club's trust. "The film reveals contradictions, but what Black Label is ultimately saying about consumerism is, 'Do it a little less, be conscious of it,' " he says.

The Black Label Bicycle Club is virulently anti-consumerist; its riders recycle everything from bike parts to vegetables. They pick through dumpsters for communal vegan meals. And they don’t (usually) talk to the press.
photo: Ray Lewis/fleabilly@mac.com
The Black Label Bicycle Club is virulently anti-consumerist; its riders recycle everything from bike parts to vegetables. They pick through dumpsters for communal vegan meals. And they don’t (usually) talk to the press.

Septimus agrees to call Conrad, head of the New York chapter, and ask him to give the Voice an interview. He disappears with his cell phone into the next room. Several minutes pass.

When he returns, Septimus says, "They're going to vote on whether to do the interview. Conrad may reach out."

Conrad never does.

image
Man and bike - Black Label
photo: Ray Lewis/fleabilly@mac.com

Other mutant-bike clubs, however, dispense with any attempt at cloaking themselves in enigma. Skunk, 36, called from Massachusetts to talk about SCUL, or the Subversive Choppers Urban Legion, a gleefully nerdy sci-fi-based club whose members calls their bikes "ships."

"We have a kind of rolling dance party on our bikes," he says, "where we are cheering and high-fiving everyone on the streets of Boston and ringing our bells. We'll stop and dance, eat ice cream, and go skinny-dipping."

It is Megulon Five, a leading figure for the Portland chapter of C.H.U.N.K., who strips bare the essential motivation for joining a club. He's a computer programmer and since 1992, a bike maker. "Last night, a bunch of us rode down to the river and had a few beers." That, he says, "was a little bubble of mutant-bike utopia."

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